Transportation Bills Face Difficult Road in House, Senate

Both the House and Senate are expected to take up legislation (HR 7, S 1813) to reauthorize federal highway and transit programs when they return to Washington next week.  However, each measure faces hurdles on the road to passage.

House leaders decided to include controversial provisions such as increased domestic oil and gas exploration and the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline in its transportation bill, and the result has been near unanimous opposition from House Democrats.  Conservative groups are also urging Republicans to vote against the five-year, $260 billion measure because it does not result in any spending decreases.  As a result, the usually bipartisan process of approving transportation bills has broken down and House passage is very much up in the air.

While the Senate bill was crafted in a more bipartisan fashion, it faces a long road to passage as well.  A number of amendments are expected to be considered during floor debate and many of them are not germane to transportation (such as foreign aid to Egypt).  In addition to taking up valuable floor time, if any of the amendments are actually approved, they could endanger the entire bill.  There are also questions as to whether sufficient funding can be found to fill a $13 billion gap between the cost of the two-year Senate bill and expected receipts into the Highway Trust Fund.

Even if the House and Senate manage to pass their respective bills, there are so many differences between the measures that reconciling the two in a House-Senate conference committee would be extremely difficult.  The President has expressed his support for the Senate bill, but he has also proposed a six-year $476 billion measure in his recent FY 2013 budget proposal.  The plan would be paid for with savings from decreased spending on overseas military operations (a “peace dividend”).

The Congressional Research Service has recently compiled a summary and comparison of the two bills.


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